Bilingualism – Building Better Brains, One Neuron at a Time

Bilingualism – Building Better Brains, One Neuron at a Time

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Brains – Grow Your Own

By Jason Enlow

There are many ways to grow your brain – being open to learning a second language is a good place to start.

Monty Python BrainDuring one of my quiet and reflective moments (probably washing dishes or sorting laundry) I was considering not only language related problems that dominate the Quebec media on a daily basis, but also the difficulties that my significant other and I have communicating with each other. It can be a complicated affair trying to understand and get along with anybody, let alone someone of a different linguistic culture. There are the blank stares when I try to make a joke, be it in English or in French.  (Note to self, maybe I’m just not that funny in either official language.) There was that time I had to watch a Celine Dion special. Actually, this is a recurring bi-weekly problem. We had exhausting discussions about what to name our children. They had to have names that were pronounceable in both English and French. I lost that battle with the birth of our last son. Do you know what a nom composé is? Think Billy Bob or Daisy Mae. And it isn’t any easier being my wife; she lives under the constant threat of being subjected to the comedic antics of Monty Python. I think she believes it’s some kind of jungle snake.

As you are probably aware, Monty Python is a British comedy group and not a constrictor that can squeeze the life out of you, which brings me to my kids.  My youngest was wondering how he could read an English book without ever having been taught. (He attends French school.) I told him that it’s no mystery since I have always spoken and read to him in English.  We also watch movies in their original language and that is most often, English.  Being exposed to two languages appears to have expanded his mind! Holy synapses firing Batman!

My_Brain_HurtsAccording to a study in the International weekly journal of science, nature, plas­tic­ity can be observed in the brains of bilin­guals (Mechelli et al., 2004). It seems that learning new things, or memorizing new information, cause changes to our neural connections and thisis  called neuroplasticity. The study goes on to show that learning a second language increases the density of grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex. This lobe is the part of the brain involved in language acquisition, as well as concept forming and abstract thinking. It is one of the last structures of the brain to mature in human children. This explains why children cannot begin to read and write until they are 5 or 6 years old but it does not explain why toilet talk, at least in boys, continues for much longer.

There are many ways to grow your brain – being open to learning a second language is a good place to start

Not everyone can meet someone who speaks a different language just so that their offspring’s brain has the opportunity to bulk up. Thankfully, there are many ways to grow your brain. Being open to learning a second language is a great place to start. It’s working for us at our pace but it takes patience, plenty of patience to do it right. For example (This is just off the top of my left inferior parietal cortex) when your spouse chooses a big family get-together to correct your terrible French in front of everyone. Try not to feel your face burning with embarrassment. You have to laugh along with everyone else! This is the perfect opportunity to expand some of that grey matter you’ve just killed off with too much Crème de menthe. Nobody knows what the hell you were talking about anyway and people who mispronounce things are a welcome diversion at a boring party.

Remember the famous words of Eric Idle:

“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…

And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…”

This message has been brought to you by bilingualism; building better brains, one neuron at a time.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Jason Enlow

Jason Enlow is a Special Education Technician at an English elementary school. He was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Jason studied Radio and Television at Ryerson University in Toronto. His previous employers include CityTV, CBC, The Weather Network, and Global Television. He’s worked as a DJ, camera operator, musician, teacher, translator and video game content designer. Jason moved to Quebec City in 1997 where he still lives today with his wife and three sons.


  1. sheehancyn
    sheehancyn 21 January, 2013, 13:37

    Excellent piece. My husband doesn’t get Monty Python either!

  2. jasonenlow
    jasonenlow Author 25 August, 2013, 09:38

    Hey! A comment! Glad you liked it sheehancyn…Monty Python is a bit of an acquired taste…

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